Benjamin Moore offers consumers a choice of more than 3,500 paint colours. Sherwin-Williams, a competitor, sells a more limited but still substantial palette of 1,500 hues. To buy either brand, you generally have to visit a hardware store or big-box retailer like Lowe’s, select from an array of colour chips and wait while the paint is mixed by an employee.
You may have to buy sample cans to test the paint on your walls at home, and make a return trip to the store, before you settle on the right colour. It’s not exactly a soulful task, but for decades it was a manageable one. Or perhaps it wasn’t. Because as with so many consumer categories that have been transformed over the past decade by tech entrepreneurs, from mattresses to eyewear to hailing a cab, paint is being “disrupted.”
Two new brands — Clare and Backdrop — have emerged in the past eight months, selling paint through their websites. Convenience and a friction-free life, ideally one in which any desire can be fulfilled through clicking and swiping, is the millennial consumer’s utopia, and now that utopia has colours of its own, with generationally appropriate names like Clare’s “No Filter” (a “light beige with warm undertones”).
Say goodbye to the hardware store, because now you choose the paint online and have it shipped to your home. Say goodbye to testing paint on your walls, because now the samples are disposable peel-away stickers. Say goodbye, too, to choice overload, because Clare and Backdrop each offer a “curated” selection of about 50 colours.
That’s less than half of the 132 colours offered by Farrow & Ball, the high-end British brand that previously marketed an edited palette. (One Kings Lane, with its new direct-to-consumer paint collection, offers an even more edited 32 hues.) Brad Sherman, a designer in New York who specializes in commercial design for tech companies like Casper and Food52, said he was recently served an ad for Backdrop on Instagram and was intrigued.
It can be difficult at first to tell Clare and Backdrop apart (just as with Uber and Lyft in the ride-hailing business). Both are New York-based companies founded by young people who wax on about “storytelling” and “pain points.” Both tout their eco-friendly bona fides. Both offer a subdued selection of colours sure to look great on Instagram, and at prices comparable to most midrange paints (about $45 per gallon).